Prosecutors say Lovette and Atwater abducted Carson from her home shortly after 3:30 am March 5, 2008, took her to at least one ATM to withdraw money, and finally shot her to death in a Chapel Hill neighborhood close to campus.
The defense declined to present evidence, and spent most of the seventh day of testimony in the trial arguing that McNeil, Shanita Love and Jeffrey Harris, the key witnesses in the case, had a bias or motive in implicating Lovette, who is charged with first-degree murder, first-degree kidnapping, armed robbery and felony larceny.
He has pleaded not guilty to all charges.
SBI agent Phillip Stevens, the lead investigator in the case, said repeatedly in court Thursday that the witnesses’ testimonies have remained consistent over time.
The defense brought up discrepancies between Love’s testimonies in 2008 and argued that she came forward with more details, including the identification of Lovette, only after she was told she could be charged with accessory to murder if she withheld information. Love was Atwater’s girlfriend at the time of Carson’s killing.
Stevens, who first interviewed Love in 2008, said her testimony was instrumental in the case and led to the arrest of Lovette and the discovery of parts of the weapons used in the killing.
The defense also questioned Stevens about the motive behind McNeil and Harris’ testimonies. Both had received immunity packages for lighter sentences before they testified. Defense attorney Kevin Bradley also brought up the discrepancy between McNeil’s account and the medical examiner’s report.
McNeil said in court Tuesday that Lovette told him he had shot Carson six times from her “head down to the feet.” Five of the shots were with a handgun.
But medical examination revealed only four gunshot wounds from the handgun. McNeil also said Lovette told him Atwater shot Carson with the shotgun in the chest, while the autopsy report and evidence shows a shotgun wound to Carson’s right temple.
Despite the discrepancy, Stevens said he considered McNeil’s testimony to be consistent because he knew several shots were fired and because he knew two different guns were used.
“I don’t think if an event occurred very quickly, it is possible to know exactly where they shot that person especially on a dark street,” Stevens said.
Prior to Stevens’ testimony, Michael Sutton, an FBI agent who specializes in analyzing cellphone records, presented the jury with records that showed that the cellphone believed to be used by Lovette was used to make a call at 3:02 a.m on March 5, 2008. The closest tower used to make that call was three-tenths of a mile away from Carson’s house on Friendly Lane in Chapel Hill.
Another SBI agent, Mike Smith, an expert in computer forensic analysis, also testified Thursday, saying Carson had last used her laptop to access Facebook at 3:37 a.m.
Closing arguments for the case are scheduled for Monday.
State and National Editor Isabella Cochrane contributed to reporting.